Were you forced to close your business during the COVID-19 pandemic? Are you wondering how to promote your business when you reopen?
Free publicity is a powerful tool to gain exposure and attract sales whether you’re reopening your business or simply trying to get additional sales. In this article, I share some creative ways to gain free publicity after COVID-19 to help increase awareness, engagement and sales for your business.
Why seek free publicity after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted?
Because you want your business to attract sales right away. By capturing media attention, you’ll support your PR plans, which will then help kick off your marketing and sales plans.
You also want free publicity after COVID-19 because closing the business:
- affected your cashflow, staff and clients
- disrupted your bottom line
- paused your relationships with your clients
Plus, if your business was doing well before COVID-19 and if what you’re offering is still relevant and sought after once the pandemic is over, then you know there’s still a market out there for it.
Still, if your goal is to gain free publicity to attract sales right away, then it might be best to focus on small sub-groups who will be looking to buy right away. This means don’t target everyone under the sun. Instead, create timely and relevant post-COVID-19 communications that would help you reach the right people through a handful of relevant channels that you’ll carefully select.
So, how on earth does a small business attract free PR opportunities when reopening?
Before we go into that, you need to remember to monitor what people are saying right now about your brand, the products/services you offer, and the industry. This will help you determine how your clients and prospective clients are feeling right now, so that you know what kind of PR you need to do as you reboot or resume the business. It’s important to remember this because the PR you do for your business might not be the same as the PR some other businesses need to do for their markets.
Some things to think about:
- Has there been a shift towards negativity?
- How did people react when you temporarily closed the business?
- How did they react during the time that you were shut?
- What happened to your competition? Did they close too? If no, did you lose clients to them? If you don’t want your competitors to win over your clients as the restrictions are lifted, then it’s best to track what your competitors are doing (social listening), and to remind people that you’re the best. Otherwise, you might harm your brand reputation.
But before you get started…
Established your PR team
Even if it means just hiring a PR writer to help get your messages right. Below are some of the steps to take when establishing your PR team:
- Nominate a media spokesperson (if that’s not you), because multiple voices will confuse journalists and the public.
- Choose who’s going to lead the PR activities and be responsible for communicating with journalists and communicating via social media, your blog and other channels.
- Establish an approval process for any PR-related matters.
- Create a list of people who should be notified that resuming your business.
- Decide how you’ll manage responses that come in from clients and the media.
- Research knowledge related to the current climate: What’s the market like? What are people asking for? What do they need? What will they need after the pandemic?
- Create a checklist of communications that need to be created (FAQs pages, press releases, blog posts, newsletters, email campaigns, social media posts, Q&As and other helpful material).
As you reopen, you might be flooded with orders or requests for information. So be ready. This will also show your clients that you’re in full control of the situation. You don’t want to be seen to be running around like a headless chicken!
PR actions you could you take as you exit the pandemic
Here are just some of the ways a small business can generate free publicity after COVID-19:
1. Say ‘Hello, we’re back!’
Your PR activities might start with a brief Hello coupled with an announcement that explains that you had to temporarily close to preserve your business, but that you’re now back. This message could also briefly touch on the steps you’re taking to ensure everyone remains safe, and that their needs will be taken care of as soon as possible. As part of your PR, you could also ask how you can help your clients who were affected when business was closed.
Consider posting this message on your website and share it across your social media channels. If you receive any complaints and criticisms, whether in private or publicly, do address them quickly and in a professional and non-aggressive manner.
2. Get in the news
Many small businesses generate free publicity by placing stories in print and online newspapers, magazines and on TV and radio. Having your story published in local and national news (and even international news) will help you influence your target market even more than you just trying to publish messages on your website and social pages.
Plus, free publicity often works a lot better for small businesses than if they were to place an advertisement that tries to give out the same information. The main reason being people don’t want to be sold to and they perceive journalists to be unbiased. Think about it… the journalists are saying we should trust you versus you telling us in an advertisement that we should trust you. Who do you think people will believe the most?
The key to getting free publicity in the news is to understand:
- the media outlet and journalist/editor to approach
- the types of stories they’re more likely accept
- whether they prefer to be the only ones covering your story
- the best time to submit your story to them
- the format they want (press release, short pitch, full article, video, audio, something else?)
To ensure that anyone in the media pays attention to your story, it’s important to provide the right information to the right person at the right time and in the format that they prefer.
3. Organise an event
An event after the pandemic doesn’t necessarily mean throwing a party to reopen your business. It could just mean running an online or email campaign that attracts clients. The idea is to get free publicity for an event that costs almost nothing but still helps you create buzz when you’re reopening.
Remember to involve your existing clients. That is, the people who bought from you, can vouch for you, help share your event and therefore help you reach and win new clients. They can raise good public awareness and build excitement for your event, which in turn will give you additional exposure.
Here are some ideas to help your event get free publicity after COVID-19:
- Piggyback on an existing event happening on the same day or in the same week. Is the government relaxing the COVID-19 restrictions on that day? Think about how you can turn this to your advantage. Can you make it so that your event coincides with this and therefore helps you celebrate this massive occasion? If there’s no conflict of interest or date, of course.
- Use a unique event theme and name, a strong headline and a memorable tagline that attract interest from the public and the media.
- Create its own promotional materials such as web graphics, videos, and short promos. Look for strong images, sounds and designs that represent your story well. Remember to include some good PR shots that highlight the key people participating in the event, plus some professional photos that showcase your business, products and services.
- Get the community involved through social media, email, your blog, other people’s blogs, and the local news.
- Develop a media contact list that you can send your press releases to, including bloggers and freelance writers who write for industry magazines and news sites. Think about your target audience and where do they access general news or news from your industry?
- Write a strong media alert (like a media release) to send to your media list a week or two before your event. Be sure to make it sound like news and to convey the Who, What, When, Why, Why and How of your activity. Tell them what’s in it for their audience. This will get the buzz started and attract media outlets who are interested in covering your event. Most importantly, tailor your news accordingly so that media outlets don’t bin your media alert.
- Call the important people who should know about your event, reinforcing your announcement and answer any questions they may have about the event.
- Create public service announcements that can be run at no cost through social media, and which could potentially go viral.
- Contact local businesses in your business network, especially businesses that complement yours and business owners who a have huge following. This gives an opportunity to find out whether any of them would like to come on board or at least add to the publicity effort.
- Participate as an interviewee on local podcasts, YouTube channels and social media to help reach more potential clients.
Basically, do as much as you can to generate free publicity after COVID-19. The more the better.
4. Seek third-party endorsement
Get one or more influencers on board early so you can use their names in the promotions in the lead up to the event. If possible, look for influencers who can generate free publicity for you, widen your reach through their channels and networks, and strengthen your promotional message.
Influencers should be people such as celebrities or experts in your industry, and they must be people that your ideal clients recognise, respect, listen to and adore. This way, they’ll attract attention and motivate people to take action. They should be willing to use your product/service and then share positive stories about your business to create hype for free. Get them involved in activities such as recording their testimonials, doing giveaways and interviews.
5. Do some post-reopen promotions
Your free publicity campaign shouldn’t stop once your door reopens. Here are a few ideas of the things you can do after the date, to get as much attention as possible.
- Share any media mentions, photos, videos, podcast episodes and anything else that resulted from your free publicity. When your followers and subscribers share the links, this will increase the views and your brand awareness.
- Send a Thank You note by snail mail or email to the people who attended your events or who helped you celebrate the reopen in other ways.
- Encourage your clients and followers to share their experience with others on social media, which in turn could lead to a wider reach. People love to see themselves in photos and viral posts, so it’s also a good opportunity to ask them to share photos. Remember to get their permission to use their photos and to identify the people featured in the photos and to give credit to the people who took or supplied the photos.
- Create some new videos, photos, or blog posts to give clients and potential clients an idea of what they missed when the reopen happened. These can be posted to social media or sent via email.
- Send out a recap press release to share a story about how the reopen went and the solutions you’re offering to the community. This would attract more eyeballs to your business. Remember to publish your media release in the News section of your website.
- Do some special offers to encourage more sales and create more chatter about your brand. This could be done with coupons, competitions and other freebies.
- Conduct a survey to learn more about your ideal clients, and ask your clients and followers to share it on social media. This would also help create more buzz for your brand.
- Reach out to bloggers and publications in your niche. Find out how you can work with them to gain free or low-cost publicity for your business.
These are just some of the strategies that I’ve helped clients implement to promote their businesses, products and services. But before you begin, it’s important to remember that any types of promotional activities take a bit of trying and testing, and – most importantly – requires you to follow through as well as track the results. I recommend that you try a variety of strategies to find out what works for you and what resonates with your ideal clients. If a strategy works, keep a record of everything you did so you can recycle the idea for next time.
If you’ve tried and got some good results from any of these strategies, share your thoughts in the comments below. If you’re looking for copywriting assistance so you can write what you need to attract free publicity after COVID-19, please reach out today via email.